Tuesday, March 1st, 2011
“Mommy, look at the brown boy!”
As a transracial family in a mostly vanilla town, we hear these kind of comments every now and then, especially from other preschool-aged kids. This week, we heard on two different occasions.
No biggie: it is perfectly normal for a child of that age to notice color. I mean, they are just learning colors and pointing it out is just an observation. I am NEVER offended by children making such comments. In fact, it can open up great learning opportunities for kids to understand adoption, difference, etc.
However, one of the circumstances this week was a bit awkward. A little girl pointed to my African-American son Jafta, and this was how the dialogue went:
CURIOUS GIRL: Mommy, do you see him!?! He’s brown!
MORTIFIED MOM: (clearly embarrassed) Honey, be quiet.
CURIOUS GIRL: Mommy, do you see? Do you see that boy?
MORTIFIED MOM: Sweetie, be quiet. Be quiet right now.
CURIOUS GIRL: But mommy, look! He’s brown.
MORTIFIED MOM: (now angrily) If you don’t stop saying that right now, I will give you a
I totally get where this mom is coming from. I can imagine doing this myself, in another setting. But think for a minute what this interchange communicated to this little girl about color difference. What message did this well-meaning mom unintentionally send to her daughter, and to my son, who was watching the whole thing?
Avoiding the topic of race can be one of the biggest mistakes parents make in raising healthy, race-conscious children. Shaming, ignoring, or avoiding a child’s observations on race can send a strong message: racial difference (and/or brown skin) is so bad and so embarrasing that we can’t even talk about it. (Kinda reminds ya of how some families deal with sex, huh?)
So how should someone react? I don’t know the perfect answer, but encouraging a conversation (instead of stifling it) is a good start. As parents we have to manage our own racial baggage to help our kids avoid their own.
So let me tell you about the other interchange that happened this week.
A little girl pointed to Jafta and said, “You’re so brown.” And my husband said, “Did you hear that, Jafta? Say thank you.”
And he did. With a big grin on his face.
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